A Senate committee Thursday passed a bill that would restore voting rights to former felony offenders in Minnesota as soon as they’re released from incarceration. Currently an estimated 47,000 Minnesotans who’ve been released from jails or prisons aren’t allowed to vote because they’re on probation. Some went straight to probation and lost their voting privileges for long periods of time. “How can you explain to people that they pay their taxes and they can’t vote?” asked Demetria, one of many who lined up outside the hearing room at the State Capitol.
She has been sidelined from the polls since before the 2008 election, after being convicted of misusing a company credit card. Even though she served fewer than 60 days in the county work house, she won’t be eligible to vote again until after 2019. “I was raised in a family that valued religion and politics, and there’s been an emptiness in my soul of not being able to fully participate.”
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman testified in favor of the bill, which would make former offenders eligible to vote as soon as they’re released, which is the standard in several states. “When they’re incarcerated they can’t vote. That makes sense,” Freeman told lawmakers. “But when they get out they still can’t vote!” nEven Republican members of the Judiciary Committee voted with Democrats.